Voting for Governor
Tomorrow I will arrive at the House Chambers, assume my seat, and begin my service to you by taking an oath. In that oath, I will swear to uphold our constitution, to refrain from voting for anything that will be injurious to the people or abridge the rights and privileges of the people. I will swear to conduct myself as a faithful, honest Representative and guardian of the people to the best of my judgement and ability.
Oaths like this may seem antiquated and irrelevant in our current practice of democracy. Not to me. The privilege and responsibility of acting as your delegate and trustee of the State of Vermont is one I take most seriously. I use this pledge as the starting point for decision-making in my role as your State Representative.
The first major order of business will be to elect a governor. Vermont's constitution requires the legislature to hold an election if no candidate receives more than 50% of the popular vote. Our constitution is silent with regard to how members should vote -- e.g., to reflect the outcome of their district (like the electoral college at the federal level), to reflect the will of the majority (one person - one vote), to reflect our own political views, or to reflect our best judgment on what is in Vermont's best interest. Considering all of these options, here is how I arrived at my decision to vote for Peter Shumlin.
District Results (Royalton and Tunbridge)
Scott Milne beat Peter Shumlin in both towns. However, he failed to secure over 50% of votes cast in either town, indicating that local support is hardly resounding.
Tunbridge: (695 votes cast; 64% turnout)
Royalton: (993 votes cast; 42% turnout)
Traditionally, the Legislature has elected the highest vote getter as governor regardless of party. The last time the Legislature broke this precedent in a Governor's election was in 1853. In the General Election of 2002, Jim Douglas received 45% of the vote (less than the 46% Shumlin received this election), Doug Racine had 42%, and Con Hogan received 10%. When the vote went to the Legislature, 159 of 180 members (91%) voted for Douglas, even though Republicans made up only 49% of the House at the time. Both Former Governor Douglas and Lt. Governor Phil Scott have publicly stated that legislators should vote for the person who received the most votes in this election (Peter Shumlin).
Respecting the Popular Vote
The cornerstone of our democracy upholds the will of the people by abiding by the principle of "one person, one vote." Our election system was not structured like the federal system (the drafters undoubtedly reviewed and considered the possibility of an electoral college system), and instead rests upon the winning candidate achieving the highest number of votes. To disregard the plurality in favor of a second-place finisher is to cast aside the will of 2,434 voters - and find that their votes don't matter.
Best Interest of the State
The legislature will confront a budget gap of about $100 million this session. (Note: this means that economists predict that state revenues will be $100 million less than current budget demands. As we create next year's budget, we have to account for the fact that we will have less money.) We are a "lay legislature" or "citizen legislature" designed to work in concert with a full-time administration in preparing, approving, and implementing the fiscal plan for the state. Our part-time schedule (Jan-May) reflects a deliberate constitutional framework that places the onus of budget preparation on the executive branch. The stakes are too high - especially this year - for our Governor not to be ready on day one. Scott Milne has not assembled a transition team or prepared a budget proposal. All we can tell from his policy statements is that his proposals (e.g. with regard to property taxes) would create a $42 million hole in the education fund without a plan to address spending. While there are reasons to be frustrated with Governor Shumlin - I too, have had my disagreements - I am absolutely confident that he is prepared to serve on day one.